Saturday, September 3, 2016

Ranks of the Red Wizards

Art by Artastrophe

<Lucindiya glances sideways at the stranger who's been jawing at her over ales at the front bar of the Withered Rose.  It's midday so most of the common folk who will crowd the seats later are off working, and the only other patrons are at tables in the far corners of the room.  If the man perched beside her is the young, successful merchant from another tharch that he claims to be, then he could use some advice.  If he's a foreign spy then he isn't a very good one and nothing she tells him will be of much use.  He is, after all, asking wide-eyed about the inner workings of the Red Wizards.>

Sure, I can tell you about the ranks of the Red Wizards so you know how to address them properly - if you buy my next drink.  Obviously, I'm not one of them, but I am a wizard born and raised in Thay, so I've had to pay close attention.  And I can see why a merchant's son would want to know more about what they do, just in case you can serve their needs more directly.  Not a bad idea at all.

<Luci listens and watches him closely without appearing to do so.  If he asks why she's not wearing the red robes, then he'll reveal that he's not Thayan and she can begin weaving wild tales of bullshit hierarchies and horrific, fake rituals.  If his body language and expression are relaxed with the understanding that her elven and Rashemi blood will keep her from being invited into the fold, she can tell the truth.  Either way, it looks like she'll be getting that free drink as he clinks a coin onto the bartop to summon Reggia, who serves and retreats as swiftly as a summoned creature.>

The eight zulkirs really are the top of the food chain, no matter what anyone tries to tell you about a "super-secret cabal" or a "shadow emperor" being in charge.  They fought hard to get where they are so that no one can tell them what to do, and they mastered their schools of magic in the process.  They elect new zulkirs when the time comes, along with the tharchions and khazarks, so they don't have to answer to anyone else.  They'll never let us forget it, and why should they?  Cheers to the zulkirs!

<Luci raises her newly frothing stein.  At that cry, everyone in the tavern raises their cups, whether full or empty, and echoes the toast almost on reflex.  Though she pauses afterward for a long swig, the stranger gives every indication that he knows Luci's not Mulan enough to be a Red Wizard.  At least he's decided to be polite and keep his mouth shut about it.>

They'll destroy anyone who tries to take their piece of the pie, and you can take that to the bank of Waukeen.  Sure, they make moves against each other, but if you want the zulkirs to work together in an instant?  Just show them evidence that one of their number is trying to reign supreme and wipe out the rest.  Or uncover a plot that will interfere with enough territory or resources.  And very soon, there will be an open seat among them.  But they each master a different school of magic and live far apart, so that keeps them out of each other's way.  Mostly.

Yes, there are rumors that Szass Tam wants to make himself our One Supreme Leader and is the strongest of the eight.  Some of that might be true.  But he would be a fool to do what we expect, and he is no fool.  He is the most patient of the zulkirs, and he did not spend all of his time building up our nation for nothing.  I would guess that Velsharoon has much more to fear from Szass Tam than we do.  There's a reason worship of Velsharoon is forbidden here, and why we hunt his followers wherever we find them - and why we welcome necromancers in every enclave, no matter where they come from. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw cults of Szass Tam springing up and if he disappeared for a while, only to re-emerge in a new form.  

But you didn't hear that from me.

Anyway, most of the hierarchy isn't a secret; every title is a badge of honor.  It's hard enough to be tested for magical talent as a child, and worse to be trained up by Red Wizards if you have the gift.  By the time you're an adult and invited to wear the red, you're damned well going to want a title in front of your name for your suffering.  That doesn't mean your title will be simple or decorative.  You're going to earn it, and probably more than one, and then you'll wish you didn't have them.  But it will be far too late for you to back out because the zulkirs will be watching. 

Every zulkir has seven circles of wizards below them, you see, adding to their strength.  These wizards specialize in the same school of magic, or they requested the privilege of service, or they were chosen (those are the ones to pity, at least a little; it's not like they can refuse).  They continue their studies and servitude within the circles once they "graduate" into the order, until they die or maneuver into another school.  They handle different matters related to their craft and get tapped for special assignments, but what some of those are, you'll probably never know.  You'll probably sleep better that way, too.

The circles descend from the top, with most members stuck at the bottom.  Isn't that always the way?  Each one has rulers appointed from the circle just above it, but sometimes the higher-ups squabble and try to dictate what goes on well below them.  Stepping on each other's robes, as they call it.  Sometimes there are duels; others just use threats or blackmail to settle the matter.  Either way, the positions are filled and the duties are assigned.  Anyone who holds up the plans might end up in front of a zulkir for "correction," and nobody with half a brain wants to risk that.

<With barely suppressed shudders, both Luci and her temporary drinking companion imbibe thoughtful swigs.>

Your position in a circle isn't just about how powerful you are, though that's part of the equation.  You might be moved up because of some incredible thing you managed to pull off, but that can make it harder for you to keep your new station.  You can also be demoted if you fail or you tweak the wrong nose, and the highest level spell you can cast won't save you from such an insult.  There's no set amount of time for you to be in a rank until you "graduate" to the next one, but it's rare for a wizard to stay in the same circle for more than a decade.  You'll probably be shoved into a local cabal at first, unless you're needed somewhere else.  That's what a smaller group of wizards is called within a circle.  The most senior member tends to be in charge, and has a handful of others to rule.  

So, are you ready for the rundown of the ranks?  Let's have another sip or two first.  We have a long way to go.

<With a drink and a sigh, she begins the breakdown, shuffling her stein from hand to hand, almost in a pattern, as if she were casting a spell, even though she isn't.>

Voskirs are our best alchemists and innovators, and it's no coincidence they're just below the zulkirs in authority.  They're in charge of experimenting with new spells, reagents, techniques, all of that.  In short, they tend to be stark-raving mad, but ballsy and brilliant.  They usually focus on the larger projects, the higher spell effects, the greater areas and such.  They draft the plans (or take credit for work their underlings give give them) but only handle the most important tests directly.  Otherwise, they supervise lower members' operations or advise the zulkirs.  Most of them spend their time in Delhumide or the Thaymount, where there's less of a chance that they'll destroy something the Red Wizards care about.

Ulokirs are managers and the last gatekeepers of the hierarchy.  They plan and staff special assignments in the enclaves, our homeland, or anywhere else we have outposts.  They schedule rotating groups to maintain the spells controlling our weather, for instance.  Just who goes, how they travel, where they end up, or what they do is a mystery, and the ulokirs make sure it stays that way.  There are plenty who would love to sabotage our weather net in the name of Talos (and wouldn't the Storm Lord just love to tear us a new one after all of the years we've kept him out?).  Not all special assignments are so massive, and groups can be formed from different schools or professions.  But when a ulokir calls, you obey, unless you are a voskir or zulkir.  And anyone who wants to reach the highest circles usually has to be filtered through a ulokir first.

Thraskirs are judges that handle problems with lower ranks or non-wizards (higher ranked wizards are at the mercy of the zulkirs by default).  They also consider and recommend wizards for nomination into the Red Wizards' ranks, though the zulkirs have the final say.  They often study as barristers at some point until they memorize our laws inside and out.  Some of them don't care about the finer details, though; they know that whatever they rule is going to be followed in that case, unless a ulokir or zulkir steps in.  They're the most common judges in Thayan territory, when a ruling is called for.  This usually happens when noble houses raise enough of a fuss that the Crimson Courts can't decide, or don't feel safe in deciding their cases.  Pity the fools who let their petty problems catch the thraskirs' attention.  Otherwise, they study the laws of other lands for loopholes and limitations we can take advantage of when we travel, something very handy indeed.

Nishkirs aren't parchment-pushers; they're the monster-hunters of the Red Wizards.  Their mission 'to uncover the ways that creatures interact with mystical energies' is all the excuse they need to track, capture, or kill anything they wish.  They study whatever moves, whether it has magical abilities of its own or not, and whether it's living, undead, or something else.  They experiment to see if spells interact with creatures in new ways, or if they can emulate unique abilities, or if they can barter or steal original spells.  They also figure out which of a creature's pieces can be used as spell components or for magic items.  Basically, their job is to put other beings to use for the Red Wizards and maybe for Thay.  They're even named for the outsiders that wizards dread most - the nishruu, eaters of magic.  (But the only way to make nishruu useful is to turn them on our enemies.)

Draxkirs are masters of logistics.  They ensure that the Red Wizards have what they need to function, whether that's components, sacrifices, or other, more rare and valuable things.  They coordinate with noble houses, guilds, and whoever else they need to because they catch all the hells for delays or failures.  Recently they've also been getting reports from the enclaves and researching areas where we should set up future enclaves.  Sometimes this makes their job easier because other lands have more of a component than we do.  Other times it makes their jobs more difficult because their superiors expect they can order anything through the enclaves and have it teleported to Thay overnight.

Barakirs are scholars.  They're practically chained to dusty tomes, not just from the history of Thay but from the history of magic everywhere.  Yes, everywhere.  They catalog new discoveries they're told about, but what they're really concerned about is the past.  Any intelligence about finding old spells or items goes to them for verification.  They don't make the decisions about whether to pursue a lead, mind you; they're just scholars.  But they do suggest missions that are more worthy of attention, and they can recommend groups they know for the honor.  It doesn't hurt to be on good terms with a barakir.

Last and certainly least, alakirs are novices.  They've gone through their initiation and made it into the ranks, but that's about it.  Until their masters say they're ready to move up, they get to be the go-for lackeys to any higher wizard who demands extra hands.  They could be sent anywhere to do almost anything, but they're too valuable to risk needlessly, so they rarely leave Thayan territory.  Alakirs should never be underestimated, however.  They have their own powers, and their word is worth more than most others in Thay.  Crossing a novice will still get you executed unless you're very well connected and lucky.

<Luci can tell her companion is grateful for the break she takes to whet her whistle.  It's all a bit much for him, and by the expression in his eyes she's not sure if he's bright enough to remember it all.>

Since Red Wizards are nobles, they can always be called daeron or daeroness, but that title should come after any magical ones.  If a Red Wizard is also a tharchion, then it's wise to recognize that, too; the same thing goes for the ruler of an enclave, a khazark.  Cabals have a couple of positions inside of them that you might need to know - leaders are zhardeks, and a second-in-command is a jarinan.  Cabals sometimes have titles for lesser roles but nobody outside of their group bothers with those (and in some cabals, it only matters if a lower member is addressing you).  Always use the hierarchy if you can.  Never go straight to a zhardeck.  The jarinan is there for a reason.

Some Red Wizards insist on being addressed by their specific rank, but if there's no way for you to figure out what that is, the generic honorific for a Red Wizard is raalkir.  They'll correct you pretty fast if they have the mind to; otherwise, raalkir will get you through.  Keep an ear out for any announcers at events or in high districts, and learn the official symbols of their station.  They could be wearing their symbol as jewelry, or embroidery, or tattoos, but if they decide to wear their mark at all, you can be sure it'll be very visible.  And as I was once told, whenever a wizard gives you a hint, you should take it.

I've given you more than one hint here, and my daeron is probably already expecting me to be on hand, attending him.  He pouts quite beautifully when someone is late so I decided to stay a little longer to tell you more, but you didn't hear any of this from me.  Good day to you, boy, and good luck in Eltabbar.

<Luci rises, knowing that she's probably not much older than he is - but with her half-elven heritage and her wizardly robes, she's able to fool plenty of common folks, and that suits her just fine.>

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